Top executives of the region’s three major telecommunications players hammered out their differences in a five-hour meeting hosted by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) in Port-of-Spain.
Telecom execs Denis O’Brien (Digicel), Phil Bentley (Cable and Wireless Communications) and Brendan Paddick (Columbus Communications) met to discuss the recently announced US$3 billion acquisition of Columbus Communications by Cable and Wireless.
“If this merger takes place, you will eliminate a very vibrant competitor in Columbus, and Cable and Wireless will basically own the market in T&T, Jamaica, Barbados, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada,” O’Brien said in a December 10 telephone interview, echoing the concerns of regional officials who fear that the proposed deal will result in the formation of a monopoly or near-monopoly in many Caribbaen markets for telephony, cable TV and broadband services.
“This is crazy stuff!” he said.
Digicel also wanted to buy Columbus, but valued it under, at 2 billion euros (US$2.49 billion). If Digicel had acquired Columbus, it would have also had a stranglehold on segments of the market in the region, a December 9 Irish Times article reported.
But asked if he would have been so outspoken for rigorous regulatory oversight in those circumstances, O’Brien said, “We would have kept Columbus and been head to head with Cable and Wireless and Lime.”
Instead, with the acquisition of Columbus by CWC, the new merged entity will control 100 per cent of fixed, broadband and submarine cables across the region, he claimed.
A Digicel-Columbus would have added competition to the Caribbean market, not eliminated it, O’Brien said.
“We would have had to go through the process with all the governments and regulators in the region. We would not have ducked that. If we buy a business, we have to get approval from the government. Simple as that.”
A high-level panel discussion with the three regional telecoms giants and local players GreenDot, DirectTV and TSTT took place behind closed doors in a forum hosted by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), a Caricom organisation that advises regional governments on approaches to telecommunications and technology issues.
At the top of the agenda for the CTU’s two-day meeting is the formulation of a regional response to the CWC-Columbus merger.Industry observers regard the CTU’s entry as a response to a region-wide concern over issues beyond the CWC-Columbus deal itself. Internet Strategist Bevil Wooding described the deal as “part of a wider trend of market consolidation taking place in the region’s telecommunications sector” and worldwide.
In the CTU forum were delegates from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), the Telecommunications Authority of T&T (Tatt) and the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (Ectel), Belize, Suriname, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, as well as other government and civil society organisations.